BlogHer 2012 — was it worth it?

English: Martha Stewart at the Vanity Fair par...
English: Martha Stewart at the Vanity Fair party celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Tribeca Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The conference is over, with its many parties just beginning as I write this.

Three days of full-on intensity, 5,000 bloggers in one midtown Manhattan hotel, about 80 percent of whom — maybe 90 percent — were female, and under the age of 40.

It’s not a pleasant feeling to feel ancient, but this conference was very much a place for 20-year-olds and their eager enthusiasm. I’m not being fair, because I did see a few women my age or a bit younger, some of whom  are well-known in that huge on-line community.

But I quickly wearied of hearing perky 20-somethings tell me they “mommy-blog”, as I searched in vain for people writing on books, or work, or business, or politics. Had I done my homework and really searched the site and reached out to people, I know I could have made those connections.

The 2013 conference will be in Chicago, July 25-27, and registration begins in a few weeks.

The Good

— The agenda offered a lot of choices, whether super-technical information or tips on writing.

— Running into five or six very good friends, a lovely surprise and pleasure with so many attending, like Heather Greenwood-Davis, a Toronto-based travel writer who just finished an around-the-world odyssey with her husband and two young sons.

— We were told that 85 percent of speakers are new each year, so you’re not hearing the same Cool Kids at every conference.

— Katie Couric, a television legend in the U.S., and Martha Stewart, another American media titan, were interviewed live on stage. That was fun and gave us a glimpse of these famous women being a little more spontaneous and human. I enjoyed that.

— There was lots of good food and drink, so we weren’t subjected to the usual conference horrors of overpriced, lousy food and $15 glasses of wine. (They actually gave us a fistful of drink tickets. Score!)

— I loved hearing 19 bloggers, including a man, read their work from the stage. Several were deeply moving and beautiful, like Susan Goldberg, who lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario (way north) with her partner and sons.

— I liked seeing women of every size, shape and color. One panelist, Cecily Kellogg, sported fuchsia hair and was wickedly smart and helpful.

The Not-So-Good

— Way too many people! Many told me they were frustrated and really annoyed at being, literally, shut out of sessions they had paid real money to listen to, some of them flying across the country to do so.  There were simply too many bodies for the venue.

— Way too noisy. I came home shaky, headachey and exhausted from the sheer volume of too many people in too small a space. If you’re standing a foot from someone and having to shout, we have a problem.

— Nowhere (at least nowhere obvious) to just sit quietly and think, read, chill, chat with someone. No one should ever have to sit on the floor!

— No way to quickly, easily and efficiently, every day, find fellow bloggers with your interests. It would be simple, easy and helpful to simply affix a colored ribbon to everyone’s badge showing what they specialize in.

I don’t know about you, but I simply don’t have the time, energy, stamina or patience to be all perky for hours (to be polite and friendly, which is what you do at conferences) with dozens of people with whom I have zero shared intellectual interests.

My larger question, which may be rhetorical, is if there is any useful and mutually respectful dialogue to be had — which I saw no evidence of (and may have been happening) — between old media (i.e. print/broadcast) and this new world of social media.

Old media, as you know, is focused on fact, ideas, provable assertions, reliable (one hopes) sources. Biased, yes, but evidence-based.

I am still uncomfortable in an insular, ego-driven world of all-opinion-all-the-time. I’m not persuaded that it, alone, offers lasting value without some underpinning of a more objective reality.

I also have deep reservations about women toting huge bags of “swag” they got from dozens of exhibitors, all eager for attention from this demographic — women who buy stuff.

Swag. i.e. free shit, included (no kidding), vibrators (bright pink, the size of my thumb), cooked sausage, toothpaste, feminine pads for women in menopause (who are no longer menstruating?!) and soy-milk ice cream bars.

One exhibitor told me many women swaggered up demanding to be paid to mention her products, or to be given free samples. Her company makes sinks, bathtubs and faucets.

You want a fucking free bathtub?

And — what has any of this gimmegimmeegimeeeeeeeee to do with great writing?

Nothing.

Long before you focus on your blog’s financial ROI, we should be focused on writing amazing work that people might, if we are really, really lucky, even remember years from now.

Or even a few days from now.

What do you think?

Were you at BlogHer 2012?

Do you think you’ll attend in 2013?

Women Who Hate Women Who Write The Wrong Things

Angry woman, Female head, nice nose, hair band...
Image by Wonderlane via Flickr

Fascinating and honest post by Emily Gould on how women hate women who write the “wrong” stuff and how annoying it is:

So I become, once more, the kind of person I can’t bear: the female critic who despises any female writer who doesn’t project what she feels is the accurate or ideal vision of modern womanhood. This critic believes it is her job to tear down women who are “off-message” because there is only so much publishing space allotted to women, and so more attention for them is less attention for her and other worthy types. This critic lives inside us all, but she is also embodied, occasionally, by real people. One of them, an online “feminist” columnist, once wrote a supposed defense of  “women’s voices” that dismissed something I’d written because the photos that accompanied the essay were of me lying (rather unprovocatively, to my mind) in bed. She’d said that the question wasn’t why my voice was being heard–the implied answer being, presumably, my bed-lying ways–but why others weren’t, “in a media landscape in which there are a severely limited number of spaces for women’s writing voices.”…[There is a ] kernel of truth at the heart of that columnist’s infuriating declaration that only a handful of women’s writing voices are heard, and that those prominent voices are too often salacious, self-revealing, “unfeminist”, or otherwise unworthy. Wrong as she is, she is right about one thing: women have not yet come so far that we can shrug off worries about being misrepresented.

It is tempting to feel resentful when we don’t see ourselves or our stories or our ideals reflected in the prevailing narratives of femaleness. Luckily, there is an alternative: instead of simply criticising other women’s stories, we can take it upon ourselves to make sure that our own stories get told. Creating something takes a lot more effort than writing a bad review or a dismissive blog post. But if we don’t make that effort, if instead we keep insisting that a mere handful of female writers are qualified to speak for us, we’ll miss out on the larger truths that are to be found somewhere in the chorus.

I love this and wish we were having that conversation more often.

But we’re not.

The blogosphere, by its nature, is disembodied and asynchronous. There are women out there, of all ages, writing stuff that makes me dance with joy and others whose neck I’d truly like to wring, utterly mesmerized by issues I find trivial and/or inane and/or so deliciously titillating  — lurid sex!! celebrities!! celebrities having lurid, preferably adulterous sex!!! — they’re absolutely guaranteed gazillions of pageviews, book deals, fame, fortune! (No doubt there are women whose hands might reach happily for my neck, too.)

It’s one reason I’ve given up reading most “women’s magazines”, and am so damn grateful for the alternate universe — literally — of the blogosphere. Magazines’ vision of what it means to be female is so narrow, white, thin (or dieting really hard to get there), middle-class, aspirational and, natch, dying to get married and have babies, stat! I know it pleases the advertisers, without whom there would be no magazines, nor the pay rates that make it worth my while to sell a story to a magazine editor. I get that.

Here’s something funny — not! We have a little system here at T/S called Zemanta that suggests photos to accompany our posts. Or you can type in what you seek. Here’s one it can’t handle — “angry woman.”

Seriously! It offered me photos of women mourning (noooo, grief is a little different) and this very, very, very old statue. This is what I’m talking about, the narrow gauge railway along which women are publicly expected to travel: be nice! make people happy!

Tonight I’m off to hear an author (male) talk about his new, raved-about history of Paris, with a new friend, a fellow Francophile and an author of two books about cops. We met recently at a writers’ dinner and — how cool is this? — turned out we know the same lovely, gentle retired NYPD detective, the one who saved me from the con man, whom she interviewed for her book.

The way she thinks, and writes, does matter to me: fearless, tackling tough stories, telling powerful tales that are hard to winkle out. I celebrate women who write cool stuff.

I tend to ignore, (not trash), other women who write stuff I find stupid. It’s only my opinion and millions clearly adore what I find risible or tedious.

An early women’s magazine had the delicious name of The Delineator, and it published from 1873 to 1937, a good, long run. I like the truth of its title. That’s what women’s magazines do — prescribe and proscribe what’s normal and OK and acceptable. Which is why most of them are booooooooring, because the monocultural values they enshrine encourage women to — buy stuff! get married! have kids! work really hard at a white-collar job!

Pretty radical. It’s probably why I sat at the guys’ table in our high school cafeteria and did some of my best writing — sports, guns — for Penthouse. (And, yep, I also wrote for Ms. Go figure.)

Here’s Emily’s blog (and a plug for her new memoir.)

Men Won't Shut Up — Women Hesitate To Speak Up — Why Men Blog More

Causerie / something to talk about
Maybe we're just talking to one another? Image by prakhar via Flickr

Are women less likely to blog than men?

So says Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente — hardly someone known amongst her colleagues in Canada for faint-heartedness:

People often ask me why I don’t start a blog. After all, it seems almost everyone else has. Thousands of new blogs spring up in cyberspace every day. All the mainstream media have added bloggers to their websites. Andrew Sullivan’s blog, The Daily Dish, can get 20 million hits a month, and has made him one of the most popular opinion-mongers in the world.

The answer is pretty much the same as why I don’t get a souped-up snowmobile and drive it straight up a mountain at 120 kilometres an hour into a well-known avalanche zone. It’s more of a guy thing.

Guys seek thrills and speed. They go for the adrenalin rush. They get pumped by going higher, faster, farther than anyone else. They want lots of action and instant gratification. That’s also why guys like blogging – instant opinions, and lots of them.

Wente thinks many/most women lack the confidence to speak out publicly — is this true? Really? Still?

There are many female bloggers. I don’t read many of them, because so many blog about mothering (I have no kids), marriage and/or relationships (not terribly interesting to me, compared to other topics), politics (not my thing.)

At True/Slant I have indeed noticed that the most frequent bloggers are always men, except, usually, me and Sara Libby. I can’t possibly keep up with the men’s verbal Niagara, and don’t even try; I do follow a few T/S men, and they tend, for whatever reason, to post infrequently. They’re more modest? Busier? More thoughtful?

I don’t think it’s because they lack confidence, at all.

Even my Dad (not a compliment, it’s OK) has noted my lack of fear about speaking my mind, and wonders where I get it. Three places.

The first, and — hello, Hillary! — not unsurprising, was attending single-sex schools, as she did in college. From Grade 4 to Grade 9, I was surrounded by smart, competitive girls and taught by smart women. Smart, verbal and articulate counted — n0t being skinny or pretty or popular. We all wore uniforms, so  clothing was comfortable camouflage.

I also attended, ages eight to 16, all-girl camps every summer all summer. Same thing: the leaders were women, the cool kids were female and no one worried about speaking up or out. The counselor who could get us across a wide, windy lake in a rainstorm, motivating weary teens to keep paddling hour after hour, had the right stuff. The girls who were fun and brave and led the rest of us won respect.

The second — smart, confident and  accomplished female relatives. One flies a Cessna. One imports Moroccan rugs after living there for years. One was leading a local environmental movement, and organizing protests, back in the 1960s. My granny was always up for a good rousing argument and my Mom, a journalist and film-maker, covered some tough and scary stories.

I also grew up the only child in a family of professional communicators: film-maker, television and radio stars, television writer, TV host, magazine editor and writer. We made our livelihoods, and good ones, by taking the risks to share our ideas with millions of people. Seemed fun and cool to me.

Our family is so verbally ferocious and competitive — high-volume, too — my quiet, modest sweetie, during his first Christmas dinner with us all (I have two younger step-brothers) 10 years ago, bamboozled by the table-pounding and chest-beating, shouted — “Quiet! Everyone speak in turn.”

Our jaws dropped open. It was like turning the hose on fighting dogs. Shock! It worked for….ten minutes.

So, you know, I’m fine being a mouthy broad. I’ve traveled widely, speak two other languages, consume a pile of other media (and ideas) daily, am fascinated by the world and how it works, or doesn’t.

Since January, 10,000+ unique visitors/month are stopping by this site, none of them related to me, so someone’s finding it worth their time. I’ve even been asked to write for a new Australian blog, plucked from amid the gazillions of bloggers out there to join a small group of 12, all of us without kids.

Women have plenty to say!

But, if you read the letters pages of most newspapers and magazines, let alone the comments boxes of most blogs — they’re staying quiet.

I don’t think they lack confidence. I think most of them are too damn busy.

What do you think?

Cuban Woman Blogger Wins Major Columbia Award — Can She Come Get It?

Low Memorial Library
Columbia's campus, not easy for a Cuban to visit. Image via Wikipedia

Yoani Sanchez is 34, lives in Havana where she teaches Spanish and writes a blog about life in Cuba, widely praised for her insights and writing. This year, she won a special citation from the Maria Moors Cabot prize — awarded by Columbia University for coverage of Latin America. This year’s other three winners are male, all writing on staff for mainstream major publications — The New York Times, USA Today and O Globo, a Brazilian paper.

Sanchez is the only woman, and the only blogger.

She writes in her blog she is trying to get permission to attend the ceremony in New York, on the Columbia campus, October 14. I’ve been to one of these events, then cheering for my friend Ginger Thompson, who won it for her coverage of the area for The New York Times and it’s, of course, a terrific moment to see a journo’s talent and tenacity recognized. Women foreign correspondents in Latin America face a number of challenges, but Yoani’s toughest obstacle might actually be getting onto a plane heading to New York City.

I hope she gets to come and collect her hard-earned award.